By Jim Wyerman, Environmental Defense Fund
Environmental Defense Fund's Senior Counsel Jim Tripp yesterday delivered an impassioned plea at the Galveston, Texas public meeting of the President's Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, calling on the multi-agency group to prioritize restoration of the Mississippi River Delta as key to ecological and economic recovery of the region. After working more than 35 years on Louisiana coastal issues, Tripp brought a seasoned vantage point to the big question of what the task force must do to reverse decades of destruction of our coastal ecosystems.
The meeting was led by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, who said a top priority – as well as one of the biggest challenges – of the group will be using the Mississippi River sediment to rebuild Louisiana's wetlands. Some of the $1 billion BP has designated for Gulf restoration will be used to jump start sediment projects in the Mississippi River Delta, said Jackson. This will help reconnect the river to its neighboring wetlands, rebuild wildlife habitat and provide storm protection.
Although 83% of the public support allocation of BP oil spill penalties to Gulf restoration, very few people understand the extent to which the Gulf's environment and economy are dependent on the Mississippi River Delta. Tripp explained how Gulf tourism, oil and gas infrastructure, shipping lanes and commercial fisheries all suffer from the continued degradation of the Mississippi River Delta and its wetlands. These industries will all benefit from a comprehensive restoration program that reintroduces Mississippi River freshwater and sediment into the Delta's sediment-starved wetlands.
Tripp urged the task force to act quickly to develop a comprehensive recovery plan for the Mississippi River Delta. In his statement, Tripp proposed the task force focus on the following priorities:
- Dedicate Clean Water Act penalties from the BP oil spill to Gulf restoration
- Develop a 21st century management system for the Mississippi River Delta
- Complete the federal comprehensive restoration plan for coastal Louisiana
- Ensure that dredged Mississippi River sediments are used beneficially to build new wetlands
- Expedite restoration by building authorized projects
- Dedicate New Orleans upgrade mitigation funds for high priority Delta restoration projects
- Engage private sector firms to expedite restoration program implementation
The task force is charged with integrating federal restoration efforts with local and state efforts and engaging local stakeholders throughout the restoration process. The group yesterday heard testimony on restoration progress, priorities and unmet needs from Gulf residents, experts and local leaders.
You can read Jim Tripp's statement to the task force in its entirety here.